The Gift of Heaven

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

“As his part is who goes down to the battle, so shall his part be who stays by the supplies; they shall share alike.” And so it was, from that day forward; he made it a statute and an ordinance for Israel to this day. (1SA 30:24,25)

Our two lessons from scripture today, each in their own way, taught an unusual lesson about the Lord’s Divine Providence, and show just how much more generous the Lord is to us than we are to each other.

The first story has to do with David during the period when he had been driven out of Israel by king Saul’s insane jealousy. While David was in self-exile, many people who were unhappy with Saul’s government found their way into his little army, as well a a number of outlaws and soldiers of fortune. Eventually, David became a powerful enough force that Achish, one of the Lords of the Philistines, had made a treaty with him.

Achish invited David to join the attack against Saul, which put David in a very awkward position. On the one hand he had vowed that he would never raise his hand against the Lord’s anointed. On the other hand, he had himself been raiding against various Canaanite tribes, while telling Achish that he was raiding into Judah. Fortunately for David, when he brought his army to assemble with the Philistine armies, the other Lords of the Philistines would not allow him to fight with them. They were very aware of his reputation as one who had personally slain “ten thousand” Philistines, and they feared that if he was allowed to enter the battle on their side, he might change sides in the midst of the fight, trapping the Philistines between Saul and David, and totally destroying them. They told David to take his army and go home – which he did, probably to his great relief.

But as they approached Ziklag, the city which Achish had given to them, they discovered to their horror that while they were away, the Amalekites had raided up from the south, captured all the women and children and goods, and burned the town.

They left in hot pursuit, even though they had just completed a long journey and there were no supplies for them at Ziklag. It wasn’t long before some of the men found that they were unable to keep up. David decided that they could move faster if they shed all extra baggage, and left those who were too tired to carry on behind to guard it.

David’s fast moving band quickly caught up to the Amalekites, and surprised them while they were dancing and celebrating their easy victory. The Lord was with David and his men. They were able to recover all the women, children, and livestock without any loss, and much other spoil besides. The Amalekites were totally routed and the few who survived fled into the desert.

When the rescue party returned to those who had been left behind, the “wicked and worthless” men who had done the fighting decided that those who stayed behind could have their own wives and children, but they would not share in any of the additional spoil. But David, who for all his faults yet was always very conscious of the Lord’s direct presence and leading in his life, startled them all by declaring that all would share equally in the spoil, those who fought and those who only guarded the supplies. David had discovered an important concept:  that it is the Lord who fights all battles; it is the Lord who provides all gifts; and it is not for us to apply our standards to His Divine government. David’s discovery tells us that there are many different kinds of uses, and although some may be more highly regarded than others by men, in the eyes of the Lord each man makes his contribution according to his own abilities.

The same lesson was taught and illustrated in a different way by the Lord Himself in the gospel of Matthew as was read in our second lesson. The story regards the owner of a vineyard hiring casual labor, and is intended to be seen as a parable that teaches how people are prepared for heaven. A vineyard is often used in scripture as a symbol for the church on earth. The Lord is represented by the Landowner. The parable goes that the landowner went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He found some who were willing, and agreed to pay them a each a denarius for a day’s work. It is hard to say exactly how much a denarius is worth in today’s money, but it should be sufficient to think that it represented what the workers would have considered a fair wage for a day’s work. Off they went to the vineyard and began to work.

Once the landowner had set them to their tasks and saw that they were working well, he went back to the marketplace, and saw other men standing idle because they had not yet found work. It is interesting to note that these men were hired not because the first workers were unsatisfactory, but because they were standing idle, and the landowner wanted them to be useful. The agreement with these workers was different than that made with the first group. The landowner did not offer a particular wage, but only said that he would pay “whatever is right” (MAT 20:4). These workers, grateful for any pay, and expecting a reduced wage because they were hired late in the day, agreed to these unspecified terms, and went to work in the vineyard. Three more times, at the sixth, ninth, and eleventh hour the landowner went again to the marketplace, found men standing idle, and offered them work in the vineyard for an unspecified wage.

At the end of the day the landowner gathered his workers to give them their wages. The Lord often used this kind of imagery in His parables to suggest to people who knew nothing of the doctrine of the spiritual world what it would be like when they entered the spiritual world upon the death of the physical body (See MAT 3:12, 9:38, 13:30, 13:39, 25:32, MAR 4:29, LUK 3:9, 3:17, JOH 4:35,36). As we read this we should picture the workers as symbols of those who have died and are now entering spiritual life, approaching the Lord to find out whether they have “made it” into heaven or not. And here is where the parable takes a surprising turn:  all those who worked only a portion of the day, in the case of those hired at the eleventh hour only one hour, each received a denarius for their wage. No doubt, because they had worked only a portion of the day, they were delighted to have received a full day’s wages.

The workers who had put in the full day were also delighted by this, because they were certain that the apparent generosity of the landowner meant that they would get more than a denarius, for they had worked through the heat of the day and put in a full day’s work. However, the landowner paid them according to their agreement, no more. They felt that they had been unfairly treated, but the landowner would not discuss it with them, pointing out that he had kept his word, and that if he desired to be generous with his money, what was that to them? The parable ends with the warning that the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen (MAT 20:16).

In both our stories, the reward is clearly a symbol for eternal life in heaven. With David and his men it was represented by the spoils that they won in battle when the Lord was on their side. This is a picture of our battles when we fight the temptations introduced by the hells, and with the Lord’s help and power, we conquer in those temptations. The spoils are new affections for good, and a clearer understanding of truth. With the laborers in the vineyard, the day is a symbol for our life’s work in the world, and the wage is the reward of heaven.

In both stories there is an apparent injustice. Some of the people worked much harder and risked far more than the others. In the context of the story, and from our own natural reaction, it seems that the reward that people receive should be proportional to the amount of effort put into earning it. Certainly the wage structure of the business world is based on the assumption that greater productivity earns a greater cash reward. But can you have more or less of heaven? The Lord tells us that in heaven are many mansions (JOH 14:2), meaning that there is a special place for each of us, for each according to his own special characteristics and abilities, a place where we can make our own unique contribution to heaven, thereby perfecting the unity of heaven by adding to its variety. But the question here is, is your place in heaven better than my place in heaven? There are higher and lower degrees of heaven, and higher and lower heavenly uses, but my place in heaven is the best one for me because it is suited to my particular abilities and loves. Any other place in heaven would not be heaven at all, for me.

The world judges the value of a person by how much money he makes, and on such a standard, we can, and do, make value judgments. But in heaven we are not valued in that way. The Lord recognizes that each of us has different abilities, and we are judged according to how well we measure up to our own potential. The Lord asks us if we have done our best, not if we have done better than someone else, or measured up to some arbitrary standard, and our heavenly reward is given accordingly.

And yet, there is a lingering unease. After all, the workers who were hired at the beginning of the day were offered a specific wage, but those who were recruited later in the day were only promised that they would be treated fairly. Doesn’t justice demand that there be some distinction between them? Perhaps, from our worldly sense of justice. But remember that the purpose of this parable is to teach us about God’s justice, not for us to tell Him what we expect of Him.

Perhaps we need to think of it this way:  The parable of the vineyard speaks of two groups of people, one group was given a specific promise, the other group promised only that they would be treated fairly. The group given the specific promise represents the Church specific, that is, those people who belong to a church where the Lord is known through His Word. Such people have read the Word and obeyed the commandments, and been taught from childhood that the way to heaven is through obedience to God’s law from conscience. These people labor throughout their lives in God’s vineyard in anticipation of a heavenly life for which they prepare themselves through study of the doctrine and the Word. And, if they have truly labored from conscience, they are given their denarius at the end of the day, they enter heaven as their spiritual, eternal home.

The other group is made up of all those people who are spiritually idle, but searching. In the parable, these people were in the marketplace because, in spite of the late hour, they were looking for work, but just had not yet found it. There is nothing wrong with these people, it is just that through circumstances of birth and education they had not yet discovered a church that could teach them what they needed to know about preparing themselves for heaven through a life of use in the world of nature, although they were looking for such knowledge, and receptive to it when it was found. The world is full of good-hearted people who believe in God, and try to live well according to their own understanding of life, but who yet feel unsatisfied with the religious teaching they have been brought up with. These people are in the Lord’s “universal church,” and if they hold themselves in obedience to those few truths that they do have, when they are gathered into the spiritual world, they will whole-heartedly receive the truth, and enter into His gates with thanksgiving. (PSA 100:4)

Those of us who have be born into the church and have labored hard for many years to learn its truths can sometimes feel a sense of envy when a person who has lived a life of riot and excess (which we secretly believe would have been a lot of fun) finds the church late in life, settles down and (we suppose) ends up earning the same reward as those of us who have worked hard and long. Sure, we know intellectually that the longer a person continues in their evils, the harder it is to shun them, that there is a terrible danger that if you allow yourself to have a riotous youth with the plan of reforming later in life, you run the risk of an early death, or bad habits that cannot be broken in time – but still, we want to have our cake and eat it too.

Remember what the Prodigal Son’s older brother said, and his father’s reply:

So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’

And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive, and was lost and is found.’ (LUK 15:29-32)

The Lord is always with each and everyone of us as our heavenly father. He wants nothing more than to give each and every one of us His kingdom. All that He has is ours. But rather than looking at it from our own perspective, which tends to be worldly and selfish, these stories in the Word are showing us the Lord’s perspective, that the fact that He rejoices when one who was lost is found does not mean that He rejoices any less over those who were never lost in the first place.

Heaven is not a pot of gold that grows larger with every good deed. It is not a big corporation with only so many good openings that have to be won through competition. Heaven is our eternal home, prepared for us by our Heavenly Father who loves us very much. Each of us has different abilities, talents, and affections. Each of us can perform a different use. All the Lord asks of us is for each of us to do the best we can with the tools we have been provided and in the circumstances under which we live. Some will be warriors and go forth into battle to defeat the Amalekites and recover the wives and children, while others will only have the strength to guard the supplies. Some will labor in the church all our lives, while others will only discover the way to eternal life in our “eleventh hour.” And the Lord, who cares for the sparrow and the blade of grass, rejoices over every one of us when we do our part.

Every one of us who seeks to do His will can take comfort these words spoken by our Heavenly Father: – “Do not fear, little flock.  It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (LUK 12:32)  AMEN.

 

First Lesson:  1SA 30:21-25

(1 Sam 30:21-25) Now David came to the two hundred men who had been so weary that they could not follow David, whom they also had made to stay at the Brook Besor. So they went out to meet David and to meet the people who were with him. And when David came near the people, he greeted them. {22} Then all the wicked and worthless men of those who went with David answered and said, “Because they did not go with us, we will not give them any of the spoil that we have recovered, except for every man’s wife and children, that they may lead them away and depart.” {23} But David said, “My brethren, you shall not do so with what the LORD has given us, who has preserved us and delivered into our hand the troop that came against us. {24} “For who will heed you in this matter? But as his part is who goes down to the battle, so shall his part be who stays by the supplies; they shall share alike.” {25} So it was, from that day forward; he made it a statute and an ordinance for Israel to this day.

Second Lesson:  MAT 20:1-16

(Mat 20:1-16) “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. {2} “Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. {3} “And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, {4} “and said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. {5} “Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise. {6} “And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day?’ {7} “They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive.’ {8} “So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.’ {9} “And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius. {10} “But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius. {11} “And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, {12} “saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.’ {13} “But he answered one of them and said, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? {14} ‘Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. {15} ‘Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?’ {16} “So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.”

Third Lesson:  AC 8002:4,5,7,8

AC 8002. [4] As “hirelings” were those who labored for hire, by them in the internal sense are meant those who do what is good for the sake of their own advantage in the world; and in a sense still more interior, those who do what is good for the sake of reward in the other life; thus who desire to merit by works.

[5] They who do what is good merely for the sake of their own advantage in the world, cannot possibly he consociated with angels, because the end regarded by them is the world, that is, wealth and eminence; and not heaven, that is, the blessedness and happiness of souls. The end is what determines the actions, and gives them their quality. Concerning those who do what is good merely for the sake of their own advantage, the Lord thus speaks:– I am the good Shepherd; the good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. But he that is a hireling, and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming, and deserts the sheep, and flees, and the wolf seizes them, and scatters the sheep. But the hireling flees because he is a hireling (John x. 11-13).

[7] But they who do what is good for the sake of reward in the other life, who also are signified by “hirelings,” differ from those just now spoken of, in that they have as the end life and happiness in heaven. But as this end determines and converts their Divine worship from the Lord to themselves, and they consequently desire well to themselves alone, and to others only so far as these desire well to them, and accordingly the love of self is in every detail, and not the love of the neighbor, therefore they have no genuine charity. Neither can these be consociated with the angels, for the angels are utterly averse to both the name and the idea of reward or recompense.

That benefits must be imparted without the end of reward, the Lord teaches in Luke:–    Love your enemies, and impart benefits, and lend, hoping for nothing again; then shall your reward be great, and you shall be sons of the Most High (vi. 32-35; also xiv. 12-14).

[8] That it is so often said by the Lord that they who do what is good shall “have their reward in heaven” is because before he is regenerated a man cannot but think of reward; but it is otherwise when he has been regenerated; he is then indignant if any one thinks that he benefits his neighbor for the sake of reward, for he feels delight and blessedness in imparting benefits, and not in recompense.

 

 

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